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WINTER 2012I sea&iI49cityguideSpectacularly historical yet refreshingly edgy,magnificently opulent but eminently tasteful, Istanbulis a city of layers and contrasts - a place in which tobe dazzled and decadent. Its Bosphorus is calming,its bazaars chaotic; its Ottoman and Byzantine décoraesthetically enriching and its food equally tantalising. Domesand minarets spiral up around every street corner behind a veilof mystical hookah smoke, and bazaars are a sensory overloadof volume, vibe and visual flamboyance with incense, spices andsmoke swirling together in an intoxicating concoction. Divide your time between ancient mosques and edgy streetcafés, linger in Prada boutiques and speed across theBosphorus. In the evening, swallow your reservations and diginto the mouthwatering contents of a döner, burrah, iskenderor shisk, for although the kebab might wallow at the bottomof the food chain elsewhere in the world, in Turkey it is not-to-be-missed fare. Restaurants and hotels range from traditional and quaint toultra modern and extravagant. In both types of venue, stylehas become a watchword, with minimalist principles flirtingwith the flamboyance of the country's incredible history. Thisis a city that truly triumphs in celebrating the best of east andwest, ancient and modern. PILLOW TALKFor boutique offerings, three hotels in particular stand out. A'jiaHotelis a traditional Ottoman mansion resplendent onthe edge of the Bosphorus. There are just 16 rooms andpure white glamour reigns inside and out. A complimentaryboat shuttle is available for trips to nearby attractions, of whichthere are many.Alternatively, The House Hotel Galatasaray, which openeda little over 18 months ago, is set in a four-storey mansiondatingback to the 1890s. Renovated by interior designerAutoban, it has 20 suites and a lounge and bar and reflectsboth vintage and modern with original marble staircases,fabulous leather sofas and roaring wood fires - everywhereyou glance is pure style. Also sporting Autoban inspirationis The House Hotel Nisantasi,near the Blue Mosque andGrand Bazaar and in the heart of the city's most exclusivedistrict for shopping, fashion and entertainment. A designconnoisseur's dream, it is full of earthy colours and white,with lots of welcoming curves and sleek Venetian blinds.There are 45 rooms and suites, with one of the nice touchesbeing the cocktail accessories that are provided so that youcan get creative with a shaker and spirits - one up on theusual hotel mini bar. ?istanbulArching from Europe to Asia, Istanbul is the only city in theworld to straddle two continents. Kate Rigbyunpeels thelayers of this ancient Turkish wonder on the banks of the Bosphorus

50Isea&iIWINTER 2012Mainstream hotels include the award-winning, Ottoman-inspired Ritz-Carltonin Taksim Square, with 244 rooms,including23 suites and 57 Club Level rooms. Guests have therun of a fitness centre, indoor pool, spa, hamam and shops. The Ciragan Palace Kempinskimerits a visit for its pool alone-a fabulous and vast neon-blue, heated, infinity-edgedwonder surrounded by lawns and palms and openingonto the Bosphorus. Within the hotel are a spa, indoor pooland shopping arcade. Book into a Palace Suite and make timefor a lobster lunch by the pool.If you're looking for something a little more private, thereare 32 Suadiye apartmentsowned by the Marmara with viewsof the sea and Bagdat Avenue - chose from one- to three-bedroom properties, all with living room and kitchen and fullyserviced by a guest concierge. EAT, DRINK, DANCEAnjeliquein Ortaköy is right on the water's edge. You can dinehere, but most come to drink and party. Soak up the sunset tothe haunting background notes of the muezzin's call to prayerand later dance the night away. Nearby, the House Caféhas twohuge bars from which to keep the cocktails pouring, two largeterraces on which to sit and drink them, and sea views to inspireyou to linger longer. Körfezon Körfez Caddesi 78 is where thelocals clamour to book a table, considering it one of the bestseafood restaurants in the city. For contemporary Turkish cuisinein a relaxed atmosphere, try Cezayir. Originally a school, it wastransformed into a restaurant, bar/café and lounge in 2005 andnow sports huge comfy sofas, mellow lighting and a garden.360 Istanbulis famed for its cocktails, which you can sip ona terrace to a backbeat of live music. Space-age cool, it servesup both impressive cuisine and dramatic city and sea views.Tugra Restaurantat the Ciragan Palace Kempinski plates upclassic Turkish and Ottoman cuisine, authentic décor, liveTurkish music and a Bosphorus backdrop - ask for a table onthe summer terrace for the full effect, and order the lambkülbasti. The Hidiv Pavilionis a famous landmark in Çubukluand was the residence of the last Ottoman Governor of Egyptearly last century. It now has a hotel, café and restaurantserving a good Sunday brunch. DO, DISCOVERTake a boat trip around the Bosphorusand Golden Horn(an historic inlet of the Bosphorus). If you have time, thePrinces Islands in the nearby Sea of Marmara are a pleasantday's respite as there are no cars; instead, bikes, horse-drawncarriages, restaurants, pine groves, beaches and hilltopmonasteries are appealing distractions. Hagia Sophiais thecity's most impressive Byzantine building. Originally built inAT A GLANCEBest travel time:spring and autumnCurrency:Turkish Lira (TL)Language:Turkish, although English is widely spokenVibe:the city is busy, colourful and highly cultural - anintriguing melting pot of ancient eastern and modernwestern influencesthe fourth century by Constantine the Great, it was burned downin 532 and almost immediately rebuilt. Rich with mosaics,marble and pillars, it is now a museum and is magnificentinside and out. The Rumeli Fortress- built by Sultan Mehmet the Conquerorin 1452 - is now used for summer concerts and performances.Its spectacular setting, complete with towers and bastions on theedge of the Bosphorus, adds to the drama of any performance. After a mind-spinning tour of the city, go to the other extremeand escape to one of its hamams. The Tarihi GalatasarayHamamihas been steaming, pummelling and pampering itsguests for more than 500 years; alternatively, leap forward tothe modern day with a treatment at the Caudalie VinothérapieSpaat the Hôtel Les Ottomans, which offers a modern take onTurkish baths with beautiful indoor and outdoor areas.Among the many historic sights, Topkapi Palace- dating backto 1459 - is Ottoman splendour at its finest. The sultan once kepthis harem here and it still fizzes with lingering intrigue andexoticism. Dolmabahçe Palace, meanwhile, was built in the 19thcentury and is one of the most glamorous palaces in the world,serving as the administrative headquarters of the late OttomanEmpire. It is now a museum that is open to the public several daysa week. The Blue Mosque, built in the early 17th century, is theresting place of Ahmed I, under whose rule it was constructed.Impressive inside and out, it is considered to be the last greatmosque of the classical period and is well worth a visit.SEE, SHOP Shopping in Istanbul covers all tastes, from trinkets in ancientbazaars to high fashion in designer boutiques. The coveredGrand Bazaaris the largest in the city and originally dates backto 1461, although it has suffered several fires and earthquakessince. A vast, sprawling maze, it has 65 streets coursing throughit, lined with a reputed 4,000 shops selling everything from tilesto carpets, pottery, antiques, jewellery and leather goods.Elsewhere, you'll find the likes of Prada and Louis Vuitton.Another place to head is Bagdat Avenue, a street flanked by oldplane trees and malls, department stores and boutiques withworld-famous brands, restaurants, pubs and cafés. nClockwise from top left:the Blue Mosque; theByzantine Hagia Sophia;an aerial view of the city;the Fatih Sultan MehmetBridge; the calm watersof the Bosphorus Photography: Shutterstock